Thursday, 15 October 2009

Nostalgia







Chocolate week is in full swing and the quality of real chocolate now available in the UK - like the hilarious Boris Johnson - is really something to marvel at

When it comes to real chocolate my adopted home has advanced leaps and bounds since I first arrived ten years ago. As evinced by the plethora of chocolate brands at last weekend's Chocolate Unwrapped event and a dizzying array of chocolate tastings and events taking place across Blighty this week, there is much to rejoice about if you're a committed theobromine addict. With the likes of Paul A Young and Chantal Coady of Rococo flying the flag for real chocolate this country is finally on the right track chocolate-wise, even if the postal system is a complete shambles. Perfidious old Albion still has some way to go with real bread too but that's another blog post in the offing

Musing on chocolate recently I found myself nostalgic for Norway. This often happens when I hear Peer Gynt, eat gravad laks or reminisce about skiing - that is until I remember my propensity to ski into trees

Visits in the past week to the Scandinavian Kitchen and Scandi restaurant Madsen have ostensibly triggered my most recent bliss point of 'Weegie nostalgia. I picked up Scandi chocolate confection Kvikk Lunsj and Daim from the good people of Great Titchfield Street, and tried to excavate memories of skiing that did not result in spectacular crashes with the woods and wildlife of Oslo

For the uninitiated, Kvikk-Lunsj is akin to a Kit-Kat but addictive as crack. The Kvikk-lunsj fan page on facebook boasted 15,907 fans when I last checked, a measure of how damn good this biscuity milk chocolate is. 'Weegies take with us a bar or three whenever we go on long hikes through forests and mountains, and on wholesome ski trips in winter. We don't really get fat because we're outdoors so much. Needless to say the clever marketing department of Norwegian chocolate brand Freia play on our love of outdoor frolics and romanticize kvikk-lunsj to the Nth degree - as you can see in the first photo above and if you click on that last link above. I'm a sucker for buying into it of course, but this chocolate so good who cares if I'm being duped

So imagine my total horror when I arrived in October 1999 to discover most chocolate here was crap. It was like something out of Hogarth. Norway's pulchritudinous populace may have prejudiced me somewhat, but I was literally surrounded by pasty, spotty, gin-soaked urchins who thought Cadbury's dairy milk constituted real 'chocolate' and booze was more important than food. It was a culture shock one step too far and I confess the first taste of Dairy Milk one of my mates shared still haunts me. Suitcases of kvikk-lunsj and other Freia confection were ferried over and distributed to my friends as a humanitarian act, rescuing them from purple brand addiction

Perhaps my British grandmother had convinced me everyone knew and understood food in this country. She cooked roast beef every Sunday so why wouldn't every other Brit do the same I assumed. Yorkshire pudding and bramley apple crumble were not part of my mates' repertoire I soon discovered, and when I bought organic milk and waxed lyrical on the joys of good butter this elicited some very quizzical looks from fellow students, not to mention when I subjected one poor soul to a rant on the evils of homogenized milk

Apparently Welsh rarebit at Fortnums was not considered integral to every eight-year old girl's visit to London and few of my peers really rated PG Wodehouse. Honestly, I felt like Alice peering through the looking glass - the Britain I had been shown by my beloved Nana was not quite what I imagined and being resolutely contrarian I refused to snap out of my sheltered little existence, digging my heels in further after some snot-nosed little neo-Marxist called me a "posh foreign snob"

And therein lies the rub. It's still hard today for even the most committed fairtrade, organic and sustainable food-supporting eater in this country to shake that subconscious fixation with class. Sometimes in those sunny and cool autumn days of October '99 I wondered whether Britain was still languishing in its Victorian past and if I wasn't just an insufferable brat for being so judgmental. Plus ca change!

Thankfully a delicious Scandi lunch at Madsen and a previous visit to meet owner Charlotte Kruse Madsen helped alleviate the worst of the nostalgia pangs I was experiencing earlier in the week. When Charlotte presented me with a fresh piece of kransekake, a classic Scandinavian dessert, I knew I had an excellent reason to visit South Ken, other than to see the dinosaurs and the new Darwin centre at the Natural History Museum


Scandinavian kransekake: a baked marzipan-rich biscuit


What do you think? Am I imagining things - does food trigger nostalgia or is it all nonsense? The best answer gets a couple of kvikk-lunsjes in the post. Remember, you must be over 18 and recognise the addictive qualities of said chocolate. After all 15,907 fans can't be wrong...


p.s.


will winter 2009 be the year I cease to crash into trees? watch this space...

16 comments:

George@CulinaryTravels said...

Food nostalgia is a known fact, food can trigger so many memories.
Even if you didn’t have the nicety of growing up with great home cooked food somehow well made comfort food dishes evoke that nostalgic feeling nonetheless. I maintain it is the smell that does it, the waft of comforting aromas as you open the front door. That and the feeling that you’ve made it home, things can only improve, you’ve reached your sanctuary, your castle and with that you’re going to have a good feed and warm the body and soul.

Fiona Beckett said...

Just to confirm all your prejudices, Sig I have a sad fondness for toasted cheese and bacon sandwiches made with Mother's Pride, Kraft cheese slices and Cadbury's chocolate fingers (not in the toasties, I hasten to assure you). Obviously my life lacks a 'Weegie upbringing :(

catty said...

Does it count as nostalgia when I've just had Suku Lakus in Finland for the very first time in August this year and have been craving it ever since?? Ok maybe not haha.. but my bf (who's Finnish) has the same cravings as you - Daim chocolates, which we used to get at IKEA! Scandi Kitchen it amazing.. beetroot salad *heart*

Josordoni said...

Smell in particular links to the memory system in the brain, as the olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system (they explain it better than me here http://health.howstuffworks.com/smell3.htm).

I find certain smells, good and bad take me straight back. There was a specific cabbagey sort of smell that I sometimes find in hospital corridors that sends me back into the mind of me at age 5.

As far as chocolate is concerned, I was a working class English child brought up in the 1960s, and for me chocolate of all kinds was high level stuff. Not for everyday at all. Boxes of chocolates were for Christmas or Birthdays, and always bought as a present. I still find it hard to buy a box of chocolates for myself.

I remember when Galaxy was launched, it was so delicious to us, caramelly and sweet, a luxury in a country where our parents were still in a shell-shocked, ration-book mentality. For them, and so for us by osmosis, sugar and chocolate were treats, to be doled out on a Sunday.

The extreme sweetness of 1960s and 70s chocolate (remember Caramac?)is still a guilty pleasure for me. Good quality artisan chocolate, 75% cocoa and bitter with it, is the stuff of life, but Dairy Milk (the one with hazelnuts please) is the Sunday treat, eaten slowly whilst listening to The Navy Lark after dinner.

Signe said...

Interesting responses from all of you, many thanks :)

It seems nostalgia is very much real and not imagined - the points George@CulinaryTravels and @josordoni make are particularly apt. Smell and aroma is directly linked to memory, so it's not a psychological but in fact a physiological response that links food to memory and induces feelings of nostalgia

Fiona I know what you mean about toasted sandwiches and somehow a cheeseburger just isn't right if it doesn't have cheap Kraft plasticky cheese melted on it!

Catty, you are a kindred spirit. Daim, betroot salad...nom! If you like Scandi food try Madsen too, they do some fantastic dishes

Claire said...

You know what? I'm English and I don't really like Cadbury's Dairy Milk. THere, I said it. Nevertheless, it's infinitely better than the "chocolate" from Hershey. And the chocolate thing is improviung all the time, G&Bs is sold everywhere and there are many artisan chocolatiers around now. It was worse 10 years ago...

I do love the Daim..... mmmmmmm my one thing that I occasionally get cravings for (so when I DO get a craving, I indulge it!)

Signe said...

Claire, you're quite right - Cadbury's is better than Hersheys (just) but of course Daim beats 'em all ;)

Thank goodness times have changed, I consider chocolate part of my 5 a day!

gastrogeek said...

still giggling about your skiing into trees anecdotes! I'm afraid I tend to get misty eyed over all the naughty, trashy stuff - discos, pickled onion monster munch,sherbet fountains, wagon wheels, chipsticks, frazzles, cola cubes and picnic bars. And of course parathas and dahl! I also find myself yearning for the apples, raspberries and blackberries we used to pick in the garden, no fruit since has ever tasted quite as good...isn't it funny how everything tastes so much more intense when you're a kid?

Josordoni said...

From what I understand Hershey's has its specific flavour from the use of ripened (aka off...) milk, due to the long distances it travelled in the US. Although refrigeration means this is not necessary any more US consumers were accustomed to the acidity that the ripened milk gave the chocolate and so it has been retained.

I don't think it is an urban myth, but I am off to try to re-find the source quote...

Signe said...

@gastrogeek1 you're so right, everything tastes more intense as a kid - perhaps because our palates are as yet "undeveloped"? With you on the summer berries (and fruit....remember what a real peach tasted like?!)

@josordoni intriguing - Hersheys also has a really peculiar grainy texture to it, wonder if this is related to the "off" milk (shudder..)? is a tootsie roll considered chocolate I wonder? Tastes better (!)

goodshoeday said...

Ah my goodness what a tough question. Does nostalgia exist? First surely we must consider what we mean by 'exist'. Can something only exist if we can see it, touch it, scientifically prove it? Why if its only in our imagination does it not exist. Surely it exists for us at the moment we imagine it. If we can define it in some way then it exists, we have given it a name and so perhaps that suggests its existence. Perhaps because its actual electrical activity in the brain it exists, but then everything in the brain is electrical activity so that doesn't really help either. Does something still exist when we can't see it or touch it. Does my computer stop existing when I leave the room and can't see it or touch it. I think the long dark Norwegian winter with a giant stash of chocolate is the perfect place to consider such matters of existence. But beware I believe it is a little known fact that Edvard Munch had been pondering just such problems, and had overdosed on theobromine, when he created the painting 'The Scream'.

meemalee said...

You know I was ridiculously pleased when Dime was renamed Daim in this country. I do not know why.

mathildescuisine said...

It wouldn't be chocolate that I would miss the most from France but the bread. A good and fresh baguette, nice viennoiseries, delicious cakes...

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Have you had salty liquorice chocolate...oh my god whenever I get hold of a bar, rare, I just wolf it down.
I love Cadbury's milk chocolate, prefer that over the posh stuff often...

Signe said...

Great responses from you all...much to ponder over a bar of kvikk-lunsj

@Goodshoeday you get the two bars I promised for best reply - this is priceless:

"I think the long dark Norwegian winter with a giant stash of chocolate is the perfect place to consider such matters of existence. But beware I believe it is a little known fact that Edvard Munch had been pondering just such problems, and had overdosed on theobromine, when he created the painting 'The Scream'."

Amazed you didn't bring in Foucault somewhere there ;)

David said...

I love it that I can say I am just going to have a "quick lunch" and people don't realize I am just stuffing my gob with chocolate. How brilliant is that? Very.